How to Access Supportive Housing for Individuals With Psychiatric Diagnoses
(Column: Ask the Housing Experts)
Lauren Bholai-Pareti, Executive Director, Council on Homeless Policies and Services & Daniel J. Stern, Housing Consultant, Center for Urban Community Services (CUCS)
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Supportive housing is housing designated for individuals with a psychiatric diagnosis who are 18 years of age or older. These programs are operated by non-profit agencies that have been certified by the New York State Office of Mental Health (NYSOMH), the New York City Department of Mental Health (NYC-DMH), the Human Resources Administration's Division of Voluntary and Proprietary Homes for Adults (HRA-DVPHA) or the New York State Department of Social Services (NYS-DSS) to provide on-site social services.

It can be helpful to think about supportive housing in terms of a spectrum of services, costs and living arrangements. At one end of the spectrum are models (like a Supervised Community Residence) that offer intensive supportive services. Models at this end of the spectrum tend to have shared living arrangements and a higher cost (to pay for all those services). At the other end of the spectrum are models (like Supported Housing) that offer less intensive services. These models tend to have single living arrangements (like a studio or one bedroom), and a lower cost (typically 30% of the tenant's monthly income goes towards rent). If someone were looking for housing in a particular model, at any given time, there would usually be some vacancies in that model. However, those vacancies may not necessarily be in the particular residence or Borough of choice. Thus, the more specific the person's housing preferences, or the more complex the person's service needs are, the greater the likelihood they may have to wait for a vacancy.

Typically, a case manager at a residence, outpatient mental health clinic or other treatment program prepares the supportive Housing application. However, other individuals, including consumers or family members, can gather the necessary documents (see below). The Center for Urban Community Services' (CUCS) Residential Placement Management System (RPMS) is also available to assist people with mental illness and their advocates in navigating the Supportive Housing application process in New York City.

To start the process, applicants or their advocates can call CUCS/RPMS at (212) 801-3333 to request copies of the HRA 1995 housing application form and lists of Supportive Housing programs. The applicant and their worker/advocate then prepare the HRA 1995 packet. It includes: (1) the HRA 1995 application; (2) a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation (less than 90 days old and signed and dated by a psychiatrist); (3) a psychosocial summary, also completed within 90 days; (4) a tuberculosis clearance (a PPD test with negative results or a negative chest x-ray) done within six months.

Once the packet is complete, a copy of the entire HRA 1995 packet is submitted by mail to the New York City Human Resources Administration/Office of Health and Mental Health Services (HRA/OHMHS). Within seven to ten days, HRA will send a response to the referring person named in the application. If the application is denied, HRA will indicate the reason, offer an opportunity to remedy any deficiency, and send an approval letter when completed. Approvals are valid for 90 days from the date of determination; HRA will, on a case-by-case basis, grant extensions to the approval.

After receipt of an approval letter, the consumer, worker, or advocate can contact CUCS/RPMS for housing referrals. CUCS/RPMS will make referrals based on the needs and preferences of the applicant and the available vacancies in the housing programs. It is up to the worker or the applicant to contact the individual housing providers and to submit all required documents. Generally, housing providers will want a copy of the HRA 1995 packet as submitted to HRA and the approval letter received from HRA, but in some cases additional materials will be requested.

Housing providers will review the application and may or may not decide to interview the applicant. If the housing provider decides to consider the applicant, they will contact the applicant to arrange interviews with staff and sometimes other residents. Interviews often include questions about the information contained in the HRA 1995 packet, and applicants should be familiar with these materials. Prior to final acceptance by a housing program, an applicant can often expect a second interview.

Accessing supportive housing will require advocacy and follow-up with housing providers. If an applicant receives one or several rejections, contact CUCS/RPMS to discuss the situation and possibly reevaluate the model and level of housing being sought. Additionally CUCS' Housing Consultants can suggest strategies to overcome obstacles to accessing housing. Continue to send out housing referrals until the applicant is accepted at a housing program that meets his/her preferences and needs.
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